We couldn’t leave Turkey without visiting Ephesus, the former capital of Roman Asia Minor. Even more exciting than seeing the most complete classical metropolis in Europe, my brother, DJ, joined us on this leg of the trip before embarking on his tour of Eastern Europe.
We stayed in the small town of Selcuk, which is a 10 minute drive to Ephesus, a 10 minute walk to the Temple of Artemis and a 5 minute walk to the Basilica of St. John and the Ayasuluk Fortress.
Before diving in, a little context might be helpful. According to the history books, Ephesus dates back to the 10th century BC when it was founded by Androclus, Ionian prince of Athens. The city prospered so much that it caught the attention of (and was conquered by . . .oops) Lydia’s King Croesus in 560 BC, who relocated the city to where it is found today. After its relocation the history of Ephesus spans hundreds of years and dozens of wars and conquerors who shaped and reshaped the region.
While the city once held a population of approximately 250,000, it was eventually abandoned (the reason for which is a debated topic among people who debate those things). Today, after 150 years of excavation, only 18% of the former city has been unearthed.
Our visit to the area took place in the middle of a heat wave, so we scheduled our tourist activities appropriately. On our first morning we walked to the Temple of Artemis, which is one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. At its grandest, the temple had 127 columns– today only one stands, and it is a reconstruction meant to give tourists some idea of the temples original size. (The fact that the one standing pillar was a reconstruction wasn’t known to me until we saw it… let me tell you, a little disappointing. When you say it’s one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, I want something wonderful, not a field of grass with a single reconstructed pillar.).
After the temple we went to the Basilica of St. John. St. John and the Virgin Mary reportedly settled in Ephesus around AD 60, so, when he died, his tomb was constructed a short distance from the city. Emperor Justinian found the site in disrepair and decided to honor St. John by constructing a basilica around the tomb. Like Ephesus, it was eventually destroyed and abandoned until about 100 years ago when restoration began. Again, before any of you get your hopes up (like I did), anything you see that looks semi-grand is probably a reconstruction.
A short walk up the hill from the Basilica is the Fortress of Ayasuluk. The Fortress dates back to the neolithic age. It has undergone amazing reconstruction and was recently reopened to tourists. The portions restored represent what it looked like under Byzantine and Ottoman rule.
At this point in the day, we were hungry, tired of walking and hot, so we found lunch and later a bar at which to watch the world cup. During lunch Rachel and I told DJ that backgammon is a big thing in Turkey and that we were interested in learning the game. DJ very kindly offered to teach us. So, when we settled in at the bar next door to watch soccer, DJ taught us how to play.
Fast-forward to an hour and multiple games later, our new friend Osman who owned the shop on the corner came to join us for a beer. He then taught us the real rules of backgammon, and then proceeded to destroy us in game after game. It turns out that Osman is one of the best backgammon players in town (also that DJ may not actually know what he’s talking about). It’s a good thing we aren’t gamblers.
The next day we woke up early to meet our tour group going to Ephesus. We’d decided that Ephesus is big and impressive enough to warrant a tour guide and we very wisely went with No Frills Tours– so named because unlike the other tours, you get to skip the stop at someone’s “cousin’s” carpet shop or lamp emporium or what have you.
Ephesus was amazing– in spite of the huge crowds of people (this is probably the most touristy thing we’ve done), the unearthed ruins and the efforts to reconstruct some of the original structures are all fascinating.
The next day we flew together to Istanbul where we enjoyed some city strolling, got caught in an epic downpour on Istikal street, and, at DJ’s random but inspired suggestion, excellent Georgian food. On the 20th we said goodbye to DJ. We were heading to London, and he was off to Moldova. It was wonderful to see and travel with him. Hopefully cooler heads prevail in Russia and Ukraine and his travels remain relatively uneventful.